Thanks for your perspective here. I am firmly in the millennial age group and so my perspective probably is too biased towards the SNES. The vast majority of my friends in the 90's had the SNES/Genesis and very few had the NES and so I just never learned much about the NES growing up other than Super Mario Bros. I also wish that there were some more retrospectives online from the 8 bit era. For example, I would have loved to have known if the same rivalry existed between the NES and Master System that continues to burn up the internet today between the SNES and Genesis. It also would be cool to learn about what it was like to play games like Metroid for the first time, and what made them so incredible back in the day (was it the graphics, the game mechanics, etc?). It just feels like the 16 bit era is so well documented in history and so many people still talk about it today and I can read entire books on the subject. That said, the NES era is remembered as being awesome but nobody seems to have anything to say about it. I think it's great that you were a part that generation, I wish that I could have been there.
I honestly find that 8-bit games hold up really well once you get past the graphics and get into the gameplay. I really enjoyed the original Phantasy Star and frankly found that Master System game to have a more immersive gaming experience than what came later on the Genesis. The game basically simulated a 3D environment in dungeons by giving you discrete movement through corridors, kind of like an interactive video: in some ways it was more immersive than a 2D top-down view that we get on the 16-bit consoles. Right now I have a lineup of NES RPG's that I am planning to play on my N64 once I can get my hands on an Everdrive and I will definitely be picking up a Metroid cart to experience what you are talking about.
I could totally talk about the NES forever.
The NES was like the PS2 of it's era. It totally crushed all competitors. You can find people on the internet that talk about how great the XBox, Gamecube and Dreamcast were, and yet you know at the same time that the PS2 massively outsold them all, because it had almost all of the good games from that generation on it. That's what the NES was like. Imagine if the Switch actually did have all of the AAA third party games on it: Mario Kart 8, Animal Crossing, BotW, plus GTA5, CoD, and FIFA. That is what the NES was like. It's first party games were by far the best and its third party games were also by far the best.
There was no rivalry between NES and SMS, because almost no one bought a SMS. I actually have never known someone in RL that owned a SMS, but I did see commercials for it on TV. Almost every kid in my neighborhood had a NES. There was one kid who had an Amiga. I remember him showing off, very proudly, a Marble Madness game which was several years old at that point. The 16-bit graphics were good, but I really felt sorry for that kid. I thought to myself, "poor kid, his parents bought him a computer instead of a gaming system. Now he has to play old games like this instead of the really good NES games."
The best part, to me, was that all of the best games were totally new. The old franchises, like Pitfall and Space Invaders, didn't matter anymore. The NES had Pac-Man and Galaga, and I think these are good games, but I never bought or rented them. Donkey Kong was Nintendo's best IP when the NES launched, and it didn't really matter either, not in North America at least. The really great games were totally new: Super Mario Bros, Zelda, Metroid, Punch Out, Castlevania, Mega Man, Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, etc....
The best way I can describe it is it was like when Nintendo made the Wii. Instead of making a bunch of sequels the really exciting games were a bold new direction: Wii Sports and Wii Fit, totally new stuff. You may not like those games, but all I can tell you is that the bold new IP on the NES was Mario, Zelda and Metroid, totally new and made just for you. The big difference between the Wii and the NES is that third party devs boycotted the Wii. To be like the NES, the Wii would have also gotten all of the new IP's of Generation 7. Imagine this: Minecraft is a Wii exclusive. Dark Souls and Bioshock are Wii exclusives. So are Assassin's Creed and Lost Odyssey. So is Red Dead Redemption. It may sound crazy, but that is what actually happened on the NES. Every great new game, first party and third party, were all on one system.
Game developers were not playing it safe either. The NES was actually revolutionary like the Wii was trying to be. Before the NES, the best games had an arcade style, like Donkey Kong. This was true even on home consoles like the Atari 2600. On the NES, they started making games that could only be played at home like The Legend of Zelda. There is no way to play Zelda 1 in an arcade setting, because it's too long and requires saving data. The NES is really what killed off the arcades (or specifically Zelda 1 is the game that killed off the arcades). It was a real gaming revolution.
Before the NES launched, no one was playing home consoles anymore. There were tons of kids playing the Atari 2600 in the early 80's. Then one day they stopped and I was the only one playing. A couple years later even I stopped playing. A couple of my friends had an Apple II or C64, and I'd sometimes play with them. Most of the enthusiasm for gaming had disappeared though. I just wanted a console like the Atari 2600 to become popular again. Then the NES came along and gave me something much better than what I had wished for.
The NES was the most amazing time for a gamer to be alive. It was a revolutionary console like the Wii, but it also had all of the third party games like the PS2. It revived console gaming from the dead. It really was like some kind of miracle system. I had no idea at the time that I was really playing the first entry for a huge chunk of the best series ever created. And yet there is a ton more I could say about it. I would really love to see a system like the NES come around again, but it might be a sort of a once-in-a-lifetime thing.